Spoons are inherently a little ridiculous. Take the word itself. Spoon. Spooooooon. “Spoony” once meant something a bit like silly. The Tick’s battle-cry is “Spoon!” Even the German word is silly - Lüffel. I have a deep love of spoons. I have a bad habit of collecting/acquiring small plastic spoons. I make a point of carrying several around my person at all times. And so does the Doctor.
The contents of the Doctor’s pockets are always fabulously interesting, and something I personally aspire to. It is therefore not surprising that they contain, among myriad other things, spoons. Spoons are immensely useful - almost as useful as, say, a 14-foot-long scarf, or perhaps an umbrella. The Doctor’s spoons touch that same area of my soul that loves MacGyver (in addition, as already mentioned, to that area of my soul that loves spoons) - the creativity of the mundane. There’s that wonderful scene in “the Creature from the Pit” where the Doctor is able to discover more about the Egg than all of Adrasta’s scientists and astrologers, and in far less time. And why? He had equipment they didn’t - “a teaspoon and an open mind.” You don’t need the latest gizmo. You can resonate concrete - or eggshell - just as effectively with a teaspoon as with a sonic screwdriver if you know what you’re doing. Especially since teaspoons are almost perfectly designed for tapping on things. And, facetious as the line is, it’s worth noting that this is the jungle world of Chloris where metal is vanishingly rare. Not only is the Doctor virtually the only person on the planet with a sufficiently open mind - he is also actually the only person on the planet with a teaspoon.
There’s also something a little insulting about a spoon. It’s both mundane and entirely silly. It’s like “Top Scientests -” “yeah no but SPOON.” Or “Prince of Thieves-” “but SPOON.” “GIANT SUPERBRAIN" "NO BUT HAVE I MENTIONED SPOONS?" This is what is great about the spoon-fight in "Robot of Sherwood." It’s not a weapon, and it undermines the seriousness of the situation. The only part of Robin Hood he’s likely to injure with a spoon is his pride. Compare the scene in "the Face of Evil" where the Doctor threatens to kill someone… with a Jelly Baby. And then eats the Jelly Baby. It’s tone-shifting, an attempt to take control of the framing. This is how seriously I take your threat - a spoon’s level of seriousness (ie: really not a lot). And I can still beat you. It’s all about discourse control. Fighting Robin Hood on his own terms - with a sword - would give him a legitimacy the Doctor strongly feels he does not deserve. Also… what is that spoon made of?? I mean seriously - most spoons are not that strong! Heavy-duty battle-spoon to go with Attack Eyebrows I guess. I’m also pretty sure that it’s the same spoon he was eating icecream (? yoghurt?) with earlier in the episode, which means that he put it directly into his pocket afterwards. This… is not a good idea. And…something I totally do. I really liked, though, that even though he was fighting with a spoon, the Doctor still had the good sense to put on a heavy glove, since, unlike a conventional sword, a spoon has no guard, and thus fencing with one is a good way to get your hand sliced off. (This is also a major design flaw in Light Sabers, which is perhaps why so many people’s limbs get sliced off…).
(gif courstesy of stephadoo)
By far the most important and interesting use of the Doctor’s spoons in the series is as a musical instrument. And, curiously, this is probably also the most conventionally legitimate use of spoons in the series as well. Spoons are an actual musical instrument, and if you’ve ever seen them played really well, it is freakin impressive. The Doctor’s Spoons serve much the same purpose as his recorder - allowing a bit of his whimsical side to come out, while simultaneously ignoring the machinations of the powerful. They are the Seventh Doctor’s Regeneration Artifact. He’s been captured by the Rani, who is taking advantage of his post-regenerative brain-crazies to build him a false personality and get him to help in her evil scheme (by convincing him it’s actually his evil scheme.) And the whole thing has just been depressing him no end. “I don’t think I like me :/” But then he finds a set of…well it’s unclear what they are. They’re sticking up out of some sort of console thingee and they’re green and toothed. But it doesn’t matter. They are spoons enough. And for the first time he finds himself as well. This is before he even gets the new costume, which tends to be the defining point for every new Doctor. The spoons show us and him the first hints of who he is and who he’s going to be.
(gif courtesy of doctorwhogifs)
The first thing is that they are a musical instrument. Music is thematically huge throughout the Seventh Doctor era. “Delta and the Bannermen” is almost entirely about 50’s rock-and-roll (when it isn’t about bees). “Silver Nemesis” is all about Jazz and “the Happiness Patrol” is all about the Blues. Ace’s Boombox is an important recurring character. And it starts here. Almost the first thing the Seventh Doctor does as himself is to pick up an instrument and begin to play. And keep playing, for the moment ignoring everything else that’s going on, devoted wholly to creating music. What finer weapon for a pacifist? It’s also a rhythm instrument - an accompaniment. The Seventh Doctor era really pushes the Doctor-as-Catalyst (rather than Doctor-as-Hero) approach, which I absolutely adore. The rhythm section is never going to be the Hero, the Lead - but God help you keep together without it. And lastly - they’re spoons. Spoons are ridiculous. Spoons are not considered a “serious” instrument. Nobody talks about a virtuoso spoonist. Which is a pity because they take an incredible amount of skill. And when done well they are unbelievably eyes-glaze-over impressive. They require amazing control, and you can play off of other people but mostly you play off of yourself. And that - that is the definition of the Seventh Doctor. Silly, clownish, not to be taken seriously, luring you into a false sense of security, and driven by incredible control, each action skillfully crafted, using everyone, even - especially - himself. Not to mention small, portable, and versatile.
Sylvester McCoy is in real life an accomplished spoons player (you can totally tell) and legend has it that to this very day he carries spoons on him at all times and plays them at the drop of a hat.